Complete Guide to Nero d’Avola Wine | Wine 101
Nero d’Avola, also known as Calabrese, comes from the southern Italian island of Sicily.
Rightfully dubbed Sicily’s “king of red wines,” it’s a wine known for its deep, bold fruit flavor, rich structure, and age-worthiness.
From soft and approachable to intense and intensely flavorful, Nero d’Avola is a deliciously versatile wine for any occasion.
This guide to Nero d’Avola will cover everything you need to know, from its best growing regions to its serving suggestions and food pairings. And, of course, plenty of awesome recommendations.
Characteristics of Nero d’Avola
Nero d’Avola is a medium to full-bodied, dry red wine made almost entirely on the island of Sicily in southern Italy.
Its name translates to “black of Avola,” referring to the grape's black skin and the town of Avola, where the grape was believed to have originated.
Wines made from the Nero d’Avola grape tend to be bold and full of flavor, with rich notes of blackberry, black cherry, spices, licorice, and chocolate. It can be found as a single varietal or blended with either native Sicilian or more common grapes.
Nero d’Avola is almost always aged in oak, which helps to round out the richness of the wine and mellow its tannins.
Many examples of this wine are fit for aging, allowing the tannins to soften and adding flavors of baking spices, chocolate, and earth over time.
Nero d’Avola Tasting Notes
Nero d’Avola is medium to full in body, medium to full in acidity, and medium to high in alcohol, usually around 13.5-15%.
It’s often compared to Cabernet Sauvignon, as the two have like-minded structures and flavors of dark fruit, spice, and tobacco.
As mentioned earlier, Nero d’Avola may be found as a single varietal or as a blend along with native and or common varietals. When blended, these wines tend to be fuller in body with more nuanced layers of dark fruit flavors.
The best examples of Nero d’Avola come from the southeastern corner of Sicily, where the warm and dry Mediterranean climate makes for plush wines with supple tannins.
That said, cooler regions of Sicily can also make delicious wines known more for their easy drinking and fruity flavors, reminiscent of Pinot Noir.
In general, Nero d’Avola can be expected to have flavors and aromas of black cherry, plum, licorice, tobacco, and chili pepper.
Its similarities to bold red varietals such as Cabernet and Syrah make it a creative swap and an excellent food pairing wine.
How is Nero d’Avola Served?
Nero d’Avola is best served at room temperature, around 60°-65°F in an oversized or Bordeaux glass, so that aroma can develop as the wine aerates. A standard red wine glass will do just fine if you don't have an oversized glass.
Decanting for at least one hour is ideal for unwinding those tight tannins and revealing a more delicate bouquet and fruity flavor.
The Nero d’Avola Grape
Nero d’Avola originated in Sicily and has found nearly all of its success within those bounds. It supposedly originated in the town of Avola, located in the province of Syracuse in southern Sicily.
Upon its discovery, Nero d’Avola was prized for its dark color and was mostly used as a blending grape. It wasn’t until the last several decades that producers recognized the grape’s potential as a single varietal. As a result, today, it is commonly found as a single varietal or the starring role in blends.
Nero d’Avola is Sicily’s most widely produced red grape, thanks to the region’s consistent heat, dry weather, and fertile soil. It’s a wine prized for its vibrant color, drinkability, juiciness, and versatility.
Notable Regions for Nero d’Avola
Nero d’Avola is almost entirely grown in Sicily's southern and southeastern parts, known for its dry Mediterranean climate and fertile soil.
Each subregion produces a style of Nero d’Avola that is unique to its growing region.
Location on the southeastern coast of Sicily, Noto is known for producing some of the highest-quality Nero d’Avola wines.
Wines from this region are prized for being full-bodied and complex, with an excellent balance of tannins and acidity.
Expect Nero d’Avola from this region to be rich with black cherry, blackberry, tobacco, and chili pepper flavors.
Located in the province where Nero d’Avola was believed to have originated, wines made on Sicily’s eastern coast are known for being full-bodied, deeply flavorful, and dutifully age-worthy.
Expect deeply colored wines with brooding flavors of blackberry, prune, tobacco, and baking spices.
This is Sicily’s most notable growing region for producing fruit-forward and easy-drinking Nero d’Avola.
Wines made on this southern coast tend to be more delicate in flavor, more approachable, and more suitable for early drinking.
Expect flavors of red cherry, red plum, dried herbs, and little to no flavor from oak aging.
While still an up-and-coming region for producing Nero d’Avola, Australia’s hot and dry climate shows much promise.
Since Nero d’Avola requires consistent sunlight in order to ripen fully, it’s best grown in Australia’s Barossa Valley, McLaren Vale, and Riverland regions.
Australia’s Nero d’Avola is most commonly found in the lighter style, akin to Pinot Noir. Expect flavors ranging from red cherry to raspberry and licorice.
Nero d’Avola Food Pairings
Nero d’Avola is a deliciously food-friendly wine, ideally suited for any pairing when you’d otherwise select a Cabernet or Syrah.
It’s a wine best suited for your hearty and flavorful dishes that require an equally delicious wine to compliment them.
With moderate acidity and high tannins, Nero D’Avola pairs best with rich cuisines such as stews, pasta, aged cheeses, meat roasts, and barbequed meats.
You’ll want to avoid lightly seasoned dishes and seafood, which the wine's dark fruit and spice flavors will easily overpower.
If you’re drinking a lighter style of Nero d’Avola, consider pairing it with lighter tomato-based dishes or lean proteins.
Awesome Nero d’Avola Wines to Try
These wines represent delicious Nero d'Avola at three different price points. Trying all three would make for a really fun comparative wine tasting with friends.
Under $15 - Cusumano Nero d'Avola 2020
This wine comes from 100% estate-grown grapes grown over four territories throughout Sicily, making for a well-rounded and balanced wine.
With fresh berry aromas and a vibrant ruby red color, this medium-bodied wine is an excellent example of Nero d’Avola at a very approachable price point.
Under $25 - Feudo Montoni Lagnusa Nero d'Avola 2019
This entirely organic winery is prized for its traditional and authentic approach to making Sicilian wines, much the same as they have since the mid-1400s.
Today, this pure expression of Nero d’Avola is rich with bold flavors of cinnamon, clove, cherry, and black plum.
Delicate flavors of menthol are laced throughout the palate, making for a refreshing and vibrant wine.
Under $50 - Morgante Don Antonio Nero d'Avola Riserva 2018
Coming from the hilly region of southern Sicily, approximately 1,200 feet above sea level, the Morgante winery has been showcasing premiere examples of Nero d’Avola for generations.
This wine, in particular, is flushed with flavors of blackberry, licorice, dark chocolate, and oak spice, complimented by velvety tannins and a never-ending finish.